2023 Recap: What’s New in eSpark?

A compilation of three screenshots showing new eSpark features and a picture of a class celebrating High Five day.

What an exciting year it was for eSparkers everywhere! Looking back at our New Years’ Resolutions from January, our dreams were not nearly as ambitious as the reality that awaited us. Now, almost a year later, eSpark looks a whole lot different, with much of that change driven by feedback from and collaboration with our teacher community. Let’s take a look at what’s changed, what’s improved, and what’s new in eSpark this year.

Playful Personalization

1. Choice Texts

Choice Texts is one of the most impactful updates to the eSpark student experience in years. This AI-powered approach to reading comprehension represents the first installment of what we are referring to as “playful personalization,” the foundational vision upon which our product will continue to evolve in the years to come.

If you’re reading this article, you’ve almost certainly heard of and experienced Choice Texts in some form already this year. Many eSparkers have reached out to let us know how Choice Texts has helped them engage their reluctant readers while sparking a newfound sense of wonder and creativity among students.

“I really enjoy the interactive stories that the students can create with their own voices...this creates more of an ownership of learning.”

“I have been printing [Choice Texts] out and using them in small groups which has been both helpful and motivating.”

“The Choice Texts are fabulous. The students are so motivated to do them. They are excited to get to the next Quest that has a Choice Text built in.”

While most supplemental reading resources are still making do with one-size-fits-all text passages, we’ve been excited to see how many teachers have embraced the level of student choice, voice, and exploration empowered by Choice Texts. This is the future of personalized learning.

2. Decodable Choice Texts

Screenshot of three different Decodable Choice Texts

With all the attention the science of reading has garnered over the past few years, most schools are in desperate need of better resources to support systematic, explicit phonics instruction. In October, we took everything students loved about Choice Texts and applied the same principles to foundational reading in grades K-3. Rather than limiting students to whatever decodables teachers can get their hands on, Decodable Choice Texts deliver a unique story every time based on the student’s (simple) choices during the story building process. All Decodable Choice Texts are aligned with a specific phonics skill based on which standard students are working on.

3. Class Library

Screenshot of the Class Library feature in eSpark

The social component of learning is really easy to lose sight of in an online environment. Students are constantly engaging with and learning from each other throughout the school day, but once they get in front of a Chromebook or an iPad, it’s often every child for themselves. With the October release of the Class Library, we’ve taken steps to change that by encouraging students to read and engage with their peers’ favorite Choice Texts.

Teachers are encouraged to use the Class Library to promote extended discussion, explore new topics that matter to students, and encourage ongoing peer engagement with contests, whole-class read-alouds, and even themes of the week.

4. Student Avatar Customizer

Screenshot of eSpark's avatar customizer

Back in April, we released the first iteration of avatar customization in eSpark. Students in grades 3+ can now pick their character and outfit for the day, cycling through a variety of options to keep things fresh and exciting. The customizer is still relatively limited, but it’s been great to see students enjoying some control over their visual experience.

High-Quality, In-House Content

5. No more non-eSpark tabs

One of the biggest sources of frustration during our multi-year transition from an app-based to a web-based program was the need for us to send students to external websites to complete certain activities. Our learning design team put in the work prior to the start of this school year to replace those activities. Now, students remain in eSpark for their entire time working in the program. eSparkers were enthusiastic with their feedback:

“Thank you to whoever made it possible for students to not be linked outside of eSpark. I think you just made our year!”

“THANK YOU for having all of the Quests launched within eSpark.”

“Thank you for listening and adapting where needed.”

This change was a long time coming and we appreciate your patience along the way. We remain committed to delivering on our promise of high-quality, playfully personalized instruction and practice throughout the eSpark experience.

6. Capstone reading partnership

Five books from the eSpark and Capstone content licensing partnership

Yes, you may have seen this partnership announcement in our 2022 Year in Review post. But, these new titles did not officially hit eSpark’s reading curriculum until January. What’s not to love about a bunch of high-quality, high-interest texts? This partnership also resulted in the replacement of dozens of third-party activities.

7. Numbers Lab math activities

Animated GIF showing an eSpark Numbers Lab activity

Speaking of bringing more curriculum in-house, the quiet launch of the eSpark Numbers Lab that began at the end of last school year enabled us to replace about a hundred 3rd-party activities with more consistent, more engaging alternatives.

The eSpark Community

8. The first annual High Five Day

eSpark is not just a product, it’s a community. Nearly 400 Ambassador teachers went all out to celebrate National High Five Day on April 20, with celebrations ranging from school parades to classroom feasts and even dance parties 💃 🕺🏿 🪩 👯.

Students, teachers, administrators, and parents all worked together to make the day a memorable one, laying the groundwork for an annual tradition we look forward to continuing in the years to come.

9. Seasonal activities

Screenshot of a gratitude-themed Choice Texts story builder

Halloween was our first chance to try out an idea we’ve been considering for a while… What if we dropped some timely themed lessons for different events, holidays, or seasonal activities? Would you believe that our Halloween Choice Texts lessons made up three of the most popular Small Group Skills in the month of October? Our gratitude/Thanksgiving-themed November lessons also proved to be extremely popular.

The eSpark universe has spoken, and we intend to continue doing this when and where we can. For those eSparkers who can’t or don’t celebrate traditional holidays, we believe there are other ways we can capture this seasonal magic in a way that works for everyone. Stay tuned!

What’s next?

There will be no sitting back on our laurels just because 2023 was such a productive and exciting year in the eSpark universe. We have BIG plans in store for 2024, including major new functionality very early in the year. Stay tuned to this blog and newsletter for all the latest.

Do you have a favorite new feature this year? Let us know in the comments below!

Until next time…have fun eSparking!

Ready to see student-centered learning in action?